Tolkien at the Crossroads by Catherine McIlwaine

Catherine McIlwaine

Tolkien at the Crossroads


The archives of Oxford University, held at the Bodleian Library, date from the 13th century and are a treasure trove for historians. From this hoard I recently unearthed a document which has escaped attention for a hundred years and which sheds new light on the early career choices of J R R Tolkien.

A small index card from the Oxford University careers service, created in 1918, provides new information about a critical period in Tolkien’s life as he took decisions that would affect not just his professional career but his literary one as well. The careers service was founded in 1892 to help recent Oxford graduates find employment. An index card was created for each young man (women could not use the service until 1932), recording the type of employment sought and the advice offered. The cards contain candid personal comments and provide a remarkable snapshot of each eager graduate.

In December 1918, one month after the armistice was signed, Tolkien returned to Oxford. He was a lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers; although not yet officially demobbed, he had been released for a partial return to civilian life. The war years had not been kind to him: he was a

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter